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Malian Refugees in Mauritania Face Food Scarcity

FILE - Mali refugees gather in the Mbera camp in Mauritania.
FILE - Mali refugees gather in the Mbera camp in Mauritania.

Thousands of Malian refugees are facing food shortages in Mauritania because of a delayed rations shipment and a shortage of funding, as donors juggle several global crises, an official from the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said on Friday.

About 50,000 refugees fled to the Mbera camp after the outbreak of a conflict three years ago in neighboring northern Mali between Tuareg separatists and government forces.

Though a peace agreement was signed by the separatists last month, violence still simmers in Mali, preventing refugees from returning home. Five peacekeepers were killed in an attack on a U.N. convoy on Thursday claimed by al-Qaida's north African arm, AQIM.

WFP has been scrambling to cover food supplies to the camp after a shipment was delayed from the United States. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, which manages the camp, has not been able to find an alternative.

Janne Suvanto, WFP representative for Mauritania, said it was only able to provide food to the most vulnerable, including lactating women and children younger than 5. The camp hopes to receive a small shipment of rice from neighboring Senegal.

"When the food from the U.S. will come, that will cover two to three months of food, but after that, there is nothing," said Suvanto.

The camp needs $12 million of food a year for its 50,000 refugees but has received less than half that amount from donors, he said.

Conflicts competing for funds

Ursula Schulze Aboubacar, UNHCR Mauritania representative, said it also had a big budgetary shortfall. "There are many conflicts in the world competing for funds," she said.

In March, food rations were canceled completely due to lack of funding. In June, rice rations were chopped from 12 to 5.4 kiligrams per person.

Malnourishment had declined since the camp opened but representatives from WFP and Doctors Without Borders said that progress could be reversed.

While some refugees have tried to keep livestock and grow gardens, they face scorching temperatures, sandstorms and drought.

"People are already fasting during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan and now they have little food to break their fast at sunset," said Maya Walet Mohamed, head of the camp's women's committee.

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